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At the moment, Nottingham City and County Councils are peeing me off. Big time.

Since January, roadworks have been springing up all over the place. They conform to the usual standard protocol – dig a big hole, put temporary lights up to cause severe disruption, then do virtually nothing for three months. Sometimes, put a big yellow sign up several months before to warn people that you’re going to deliberately cause severe disruption for the whole of the summer.

Road Layout Near Chalfont Drive

Road Layout Near Chalfont Drive

The area around the Chalfont Drive Test Centre (Broxtowe Borough) has always had the most ridiculous road layouts imaginable. It is primarily populated by old people in those purpose-built bungalows, but to a forward-thinking council (of which ours are two such examples) this means you need a lot of cycle lanes.

I always wondered what those old people do when I’m not there.

Basically, the main roads are (or were) split into a parking zone down the left, a cycle lane in the middle, and a narrow bit left over on the right side which cars are currently allowed to use (at the discretion of the council chieftains). The speed limit is up and down like a bloody yo-yo (and bearing in mind the area we are talking about, no one follows the 20mph ones and you always have a white van stuck up your backside), there are painted hatch markings in 1 metre wide semicircles next to the kerb at junctions, chicanes, and all kinds of other things you find right at the end of the Highway Code section on road markings you won’t see anywhere except in Nottingham. To be fair, there were a few stretches where the road layout was vaguely normal.

Of course, on the rare occasions a cyclist does travel down those roads, you can bet your last dollar that they won’t be in the cycle lane. It’ll either be the pavement, or slap in the middle of the part of the road the council forgot to do something else with and left for cars to drive in. Those idiots in Spandex are the worst offenders for not using cycle lanes.

But this arrangement wasn’t complicated enough – sorry, I mean it wasn’t safe enough – for the clowns at the council offices.

I went down there last week with a pupil, and coming up to one of the roundabouts I talked her through how to do it… and suddenly found myself in the middle of two cycle lanes! Yes, two cycle lanes. They’ve now put cycle lanes all around the roundabout covering all exits, and this means that they need to have forks in those lanes – so you end up with the most bizarre combination of white lines where one cycle lane from one entry joins the lane on the roundabout, but also branches off the first exit! There are pictures of cycles all over the bloody road!

On top of that, they have removed a lane from Beechdale Road and are doing the same all the way down. From the holes that have been dug, it seems they are putting in chicanes with parking spaces between. The roundabout at the end of Robin’s Wood Road is chaotic first thing in the morning – but at least it had two lanes for people going in other directions than towards Nottingham. Not anymore, though. It’s one lane in all round.

It’s about time these morons woke up and smelled the coffee. There are millions of cars on the road, so why keep doing things that deliberately make it difficult for the majority? Why keep catering for minorities? Hardly anyone uses the damned cycle lanes, and certainly not enough to justify keep building more of them? How many people have been injured to justify reducing road capacity in an already heavily congested area?

They are on a different planet – and should be fixing potholes properly instead of wasting money like this. It isn’t as if they work nights to get it done quickly, either.

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Just received an email alert from the DSA announcing that it has launched a consultation exercise to address the situation where the actions or behaviour of an ADI (or PDI) poses a danger to the public. It emphasises that this is a very rare situation.

The email says:

Suspension of driving instructors: consultation launch

The new Driving Instruction (Suspension and Exemption Powers) Act introduced a power for the Driving Standards Agency to suspend the approval of driving instructors in rare situations where the individual poses a danger to the public.

Before the suspension power can be used, a compensation scheme must be in place for instructors whose approval to instruct is suspended but who are not subsequently taken off the register.

We have today launched a consultation exercise on the compensation arrangements. The closing date for replies is 31 May 2010.

The proposals relate to the system for calculating the level of awards and the procedures for making claims,

This includes timescales, supporting documentation, validation of information and appeals arrangements.

We have posted the consultation paper on our website: dsa.gov.uk. The relevant reply form is also available on the website.

If you are unable to download the documents from our website, you can request hard copies by sending an email to Consultations@dsa.gsi.gov.uk or by calling 0115 936 6098.

We anticipate the suspension power will be used where the instructor is convicted of a serious violent or sexual offence, or is delivering dangerous tuition.

If you go to the website link they give it isn’t immediately clear where the consultation paper is (unless I am being very thick). There is a press release (if you search for it), dated November 2009! But if you click the Consultations link, then Current Consultations , there it is!

I guess it was me being thick – after all, you wouldn’t expect it to be on the front page of the link you provide, would you? And God forbid that the link would be a direct one to the actual consultation page.

Mind you, I’m dying to see how this one is covered on the multitude of web forums out there. This is a consultation exercise, giving people the chance to put their views across on the compensation terms following wrongful suspension. I wonder how long before the usual stirrers start behaving as if it is already agreed?

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The DSA is running a survey for Pass Plus, inviting input from ADIs and new drivers.

The ADI survey is here , and the one for new drivers here .

As far as the ADI survey goes, it appears to be looking at demographics more than anything else. I’m sure there will be some who have plenty of opinions, but it is after simple facts and straight answers from contributors.

It is running until 5th April 2010.

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This week started on a bit of a sour note. A pupil had his driving test on Monday, and he’d only got one fault until 10 minutes before the end – at which point he drove through a red light! It was a sunny day, and he said the sun just blinded him and he didn’t see the lights. The examiner (actually, the SE) is just about the nicest person you could meet – and she was extremely apologetic. So he failed with one serious fault and one driver fault. Aargh!

Today was better, though. Well done JY for passing with 5 driver faults. It’s been a rocky ride, with two tests being cancelled due to snow (and both of them early morning ones, so I had to go and pick her up before 7am because no one was at the test centre that early!)

She’s got her car all ready, so just got to get the insurance and tax (it’s SORNed, and she’s been holding off until she passed). She’s a great driver and will be all right!

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This has been talked about for a couple of weeks, but at the test centre today it would appear that not all ADIs are aware of it.

Here’s an email alert that I received from the DSA today:

Driving examiner strike – candidates to attend tests 

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union is asking its members to take strike action on Monday and Tuesday, 8 and 9 March. 

If you have a driving test booked for either day, we ask you to attend as scheduled. 

We won’t know the effects of the strikes until the day as not all of our examiners and staff are members of the union. 

We don’t know at this stage who will attend for work, which is why we ask that you arrive for your test regardless. 

You don’t need to do anything and there is no need to contact DSA. 

If you can’t take a test because of the action, you will have the test rebooked automatically, free of charge, and an appointment confirmation will be sent by email or post. 

If your new appointment isn’t suitable you can change it online at direct.gov.uk/drivingtest

Nottingham seems to get away without much disruption (well, it has in the past) – it all depends on whether examiners are members of the PCS Union or not. The wording of this alert also suggests that even PCS members may not comply with the request for action.

Just turn up for test as usual. And if you do have one cancelled, don’t forget to get a claim form (electronic version here) (the candidate must fill in the form and make the claim). You can get the cost of the lesson and other legitimate expenses back.

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From 6th April 2010 you will be asked if you would like someone to sit in the back during your driving test. Ideally, this person will be your intructor or someone who has been teaching you to drive. The choice is entirely yours – you’re the one who is taking the test.

The DSA would rather it was your instructor. This change is part of an ongoing series of changes to the driving test, and is a compromise – possibly temporary – between it being mandatory for your instructor to be there (what the DSA originally wanted), and the instructor usually not being there at all (unless it is one of those busybody types who can’t wait to get in the back on every test).

You have always been allowed to ask for your instructor to accompany you. The only change is that now you will be asked specifically if you want your ADI there. That’s all.

I have always made it clear to my learners that they can have me there if they want to. I have made it clear that it is their choice. I have also pointed out that I can have absolutely no positive effect on the outcome of the test, and seeing as I weigh roughly the same as a moderately sized herbivore (more usually seen wandering around the Serengeti, not cramped in the back of a driving test), I might even have a negative one.

In the end, it is your choice. It always has been.

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That Welsh documentary also had another segment (the very first one) about an instructor taking money and disappearing.

Surepass Logo

Surepass Logo

This time, the driving school having the dirt dug on it was Surepass.

Apparently, what had happened was that this guy had booked lessons for his son with Surepass. They’d passed him on to a local instructor, who took a cheque for around £600. The instructor gave one lesson, then cancelled and refused to do any more until the boy had done his theory test. After that he became unobtainable, having effectively done a runner with the money.

It turns out that the “instructor” – Gareth Arnold – was a failed trainee who should not have been taking money for tuition in the first place (it is illegal to take payment for teaching people to drive unless you are registered as either an ADI or a trainee (PDI) on a trainee licence). So he can add that to embezzlement and theft on his list of skills. He sounds a class act.

The upshot (watch the TV segment) is that Surepass made a mistake and had been having problems with this failed instructor themselves (trying to get the car back and claim for unpaid franchise payments). They refunded the pupil’s father the money and apologised.

The moral is as follows: there are some dishonest people out there, and just because a driving school makes a mistake or has a complaint made against it doesn’t mean it is in league with Satan.

Another thing worth noting is that Gareth Arnold is a prime example of what can happen if you don’t know what you are getting into when you decide that becoming an instructor is your lifelong ambition after seeing a TV ad about it. You can fail.

(Note: This “Gareth Arnold” (the bogus instructor) is not to be confused with any other “Gareth Arnold” (and who has nothing to do with this story). You wouldn’t believe how many people are searching for that name. It must be the Welsh equivalent of “John Smith”).

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I was doing a bit of scouting, and came across a discussion where someone had criticised their local test centre for cancelling a 10.15am test. They say there was a bit of wet at the end of the road, but the test was cancelled for ice. He took a photo of a puddle. As you’d expect, everyone is in total sympathy… it’s yet another example of how the DSA hasn’t got a clue, etc., etc.

Now the truth: I was on a lesson with a pupil this morning between 10am and 12pm. From the moment I left the house, the car temperature readout was showing from 1-3°C depending on where you were, and it remained like this until at least 1.15pm. Overnight, it has been around -3°C. Some side roads still had ice on them. Other roads still had snow in the gutters (the frozen slushy type). Some roads had patches of black ice on them, and sudden braking resulted in a slight tremble from the ABS. I cover the same test centre this guy is talking about, and I know that there was still frost on shaded roads at that time.

Just to set the record staright, of course.

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Damn! I woke up this morning to find close to 10cm of snow had fallen. Apparently, it fell in less than an hour.

My first lesson isn’t until 2pm, so I’ll wait and see what happens. Mind you, my pupil lives on a hill which is notorious in bad weather, and which you can be certain hasn’t been gritted by the Nottingham City Council.

But… as of midday, it seems to be melting quite quickly. Already had my 4pm lesson cancel, though (she cancels for wind, sun, rain, fog… so I expected it). The 6pm (2 hour) lesson should be OK, because she even came out in the worst of the snow we had a few weeks ago and loved it.

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This is an OLD story. Red went bust on 2009/10 but was bought up immediately. It never ceased trading, and it is still going strong now. It doesn’t advertise (or do) instructor training like it used to do. It is not the same company as the one it was before it went bust – only the name is retained.


Red Driving School LogoI saw this news article today (link now dead, from The Times). It was published very early this morning, but It looks like a buyer is already found for Red Driving School.

That didn’t take long, did it? I hope people working for/franchised to Red stop worrying now, because it looks like they are in good hands!

Kelso Place , which specialises in private equity, is buying the entire Red portfolio. Previously, Kelso has financed Smythson of Bond Street. They appear to specialise in picking up businesses which have not been realising their full potential, and then turn them right around into very profitable organisations.

Kelso’s website identifies the kind of challenge they take on:

Our Special Situations Fund invests between £1 million and £20 million in opportunities which typically:

  • are in any sector;
  • are based in the UK;
  • have run-rate annual revenues of at least £10 million;
  • are not performing to their full potential;
  • have sound underlying businesses; and
  • are capable of organic growth and cash generation.

Portfolio Companies are likely to fall into one of two categories:

  • Businesses which have a strong platform for growth but require investment and additional management expertise and experience in order to realize their potential; and
  • Businesses which require investment and “hands on” involvement to rectify operational underperformance arising from a distressed situation or from having been deemed a non-core subsidiary of a larger company.

Obviously, Kelso believes that this is a worthwhile investment – and here is where we get into an amusing paradoxical situation, when we begin to look at what is being written about the situation on driving school websites.

It was absolutely obvious to anyone with even an ounce of intelligence that Red would be snapped up quite quickly. Also, anyone with an ounce of intelligence would have accepted the administrator’s (MCR) assessment:

“We are confident a buyer will be secured as the most recent financial reports indicate the business has been quite a healthy and profitable operation”

“It only entered administration due to a lack of funding and investment.”

But we are talking about driving instructors. The outlandish scenarios they have painted over the last couple of days have been so funny you have to be careful not to hyperventilate and hurt yourself! Why is it that driving instructors can never accept the simplest and most likely explanation, and have to look for convoluted conspiracy theories? Apparently, MCR is “lying” about that last sentence… and the whole conspiracy theory is built up from that foundation. On some forums, they are actually wishing that Red goes under and hundreds of people lose their jobs!

Anyway, the Times article quotes Kelso:

Philip Weston, a partner at Kelso Place, said: “We are buying into the [company’s] existing strategy — we are very supportive of that.”

“The reason it had problems was nothing to do with trading or operational factors but because of external factors outside its control.”

Now this is interesting. Kelso – a company which is unlikely to throw millions of its money away – is effectively saying that the business model is sound, and nothing that led to the administrator being called in had anything at all to do with that business model (which is exactly what MCR said). And Kelso’s previous successes might also indicate that it knows what it is on with:

Perhaps its biggest success was a deal to buy Sepura, which makes radios for the police, from administrators for a nominal £1. It later floated the business for £200m.

But driving instructors know best, eh?

EDIT 21/02/2010: And I’m still getting hits for “how does red being in receivership affect my franchise payments” and similar search terms. Red is still trading, so it doesn’t affect it at all! You try and hold back payment and you’ll be in breach of contract!

EDIT 22/02/2010: The BBC now also has a story about Red being bought by Kelso Place.

EDIT 23/02/2010: There’s also coverage of the takeover in the Daily Telegraph. The initial administration story is covered here in The Independent (interesting comment by someone that LVG dumped Barclays and sought alternative means of funding itself – a lot of people reckoned that Barclays dumped LVG! The same person also makes the point I did in another post – that being in administration is not the same as bankruptcy or receivership.) The rescue story is also covered here on Yahoo (link now dead).

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